In the light of many historical cases now brought against well-known public figures, it seems totally unfair that defendants have their names published in newspapers and reported on TV whilst the person bringing the allegations remain anonymous. There have been many cases recently where Government Ministers, TV personalities and Pop Stars have been castigated by the media and then found not guilty, their reputations having been tarnished forever. Surely it is only right and proper that both sides should receive the same protection. It is not only people in the public eye who are affected by this law but many ordinary people such as teachers, policemen, doctors etc. are stigmatised for life even if found not guilty.
People who allege they are victims of certain sexual offences receive lifelong anonymity. It is a criminal office to publish the complainant’s identity or any information that might lead to the complainants being identified. Surely it is unfair that potentially innocent defendants do not receive similar protection. As the saying goes ‘mud sticks’ and those in favour of reform argue that there is a particular stigma attached to allegations of sexual offences as compared to other serious crime, which results in harm to the defendant. Individuals who have been acquitted of rape have told of the devastating effect it can have on their lives and families. We feel that it is time that we treat both sides in such cases equally.
Reply from: RT HON Mike Penning MP – Minister of State for Policing, Fire Criminal Justice and Victims
Previously, the Sexual Offences (amendment) Act 1976, provided for a ban on the press identification of both complainants and defendants in rape cases, but the provision providing anonymity for defendants was abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This was partly because the situation of complainants and defendants is not comparable. Complainants may need the protection of anonymity when they come forward, because if their identity is revealed they or their family and friends may be at risk of intimidation or serious harm. The naming of defendants can also enable, or in some cases encourage, other potential victims and witnesses to come forward to report offences. In 2010 the coalition government considered anonymity for defendants however there was insufficient evidence to justify reinstatement. We have no current plans to reconsider the matter, but will continue to keep the issue under review.
One of the cornerstones of the criminal justice system is open justice. This is the principle that justice should be seen to be done, so that both the process and the results are open to scrutiny. In accordance with this principle, unless there are exceptional circumstance, the identities of adult defendants, victims and accusers in criminal proceedings will be given in open court. The principle also means that the media are free to attend and report on proceedings of a court case, unless there is a specific justification to prevent them from doing so.
Turning to the reporting of persons who are suspected of, and may even have been arrested for, an offence, but have not been charged. Our position is consistent with guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (now superseded by the National Police Chief’s Council) which states that the names or identifying details of the defendant could be released by police forces to the press or the public only where there is a threat to life, for the prevention or detection of crime or where it is a matter of public interest and confidence.